Kalamazoo cellist Jordan Hamilton on telling stories through sound in new album “Vibrations.”
Kalamazoo-based cellist and songwriter Jordan Hamilton had just released an award-winning album. He was planning to make music videos for his latest songs. He’d scheduled shows for the next several months, with performances booked at home in the Midwest and abroad, in Canada and France. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan.
“It kind of took down all the momentum that I had coming from the beginning of that year,” Hamilton said.
Michigan musicians faced an altered music world when live performances were canceled due to public health risks. One year after Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued the first stay home, stay safe orders, Hamilton says musicians are still navigating challenges, as much remains unknown about how the industry will look in the coming months. But, he adds, he’s found ways to stay connected with his music and audiences during the pandemic.
“What I've been doing lately is just kind of accepting that I'm not going to be able to really play shows the way that I was playing shows before the pandemic,” he said. “I've been doing more livestreams. I’ve been figuring out how I'm going to play in parks by myself and just let my fans know they can come up and listen to me if they want. And I've been really just working on my recordings and songwriting, because that's what time is allowing right now.”
Hamilton is a classically trained cellist, but his work isn’t limited to a single genre — he incorporates folk, hip-hop, electronic, soul, and classical styles into his compositions, which he plays as a solo artist and with collaborators like Last Gasp Collective. He says he didn’t want to box his music into a particular genre.
“I think one of the things that we've all experienced in today's age is that diversity is very needed in our own entertainment and in our everyday lives,” he said. “Being a cellist, trying to figure out where the cello fits, I've always run into a lot of different styles of music.”
The songs on Hamilton’s latest album, Vibrations., released March 17, are instrumental — Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorales are a significant influence in the record. But, Hamilton says, it’s not exactly a classical album, or a hip-hop or beat tape record. It’s a little in between.
“I always have enjoyed instrumentals,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to create something — especially now, in the early stages of my music career or songwriting career — that I kind of express myself without words, just as much as I'm learning to express myself with words.”
Hamilton says three of the songs on the album — “Radiation,” “Reflection,” and “Solar” — tell a story for the listener that weaves its way through action, reflection, and stillness. The triad starts with powerful, orchestral melodies and beats, then flows through brooding contemplation to calming respite.
“I wanted to pair those together because it's like, okay, let me reflect on some things that may feel painful or have felt painful for me,” he said. “So giving people that space to kind of feel that. I wanted to put that on the record, and followed that with another song called ‘Solar.’ … It's a short little song, but it kind of puts you in a space of, for me, stillness — [it] represents some stillness in my life.”
Hamilton has also started an ongoing livestream project during the pandemic. Each month, he connects virtually with a different musical artist for an interview and performance as part of “The Green Room Series.”
“One thing that I miss the most about performing on the road is meeting new musicians and just talking to them, seeing where they're at, seeing what's up, you know — see what connects us, see what disconnects us,” he said. “I wanted to kind of find a way that I can replicate that experience online, so I've created this series called The Green Room Series.”
Hamilton’s next event in the series, a performance with New York-based artist Dudley Music, will take place March 28. For more information, visit Hamilton’s website and listen to his full conversation with Stateside producer and director Mercedes Mejia above.
Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.